New hires nab half of lab space in science hall

by Kelly Quinn

The Science and Engineering Hall, slated for completion in late 2014, will house research laboratories, half of which will be allocated to professors who are new to the University.
Media Credit: Ashley Lucas | Hatchet Staff Photographer
The Science and Engineering Hall, slated for completion in late 2014, will house research laboratories, half of which will be allocated to professors who are new to the University.

As candidates for six engineering faculty slots interview on campus this week, they will vie to be among a pool of researchers that will take up half of the Science and Engineering Hall.

Of the 121 faculty members who will have research laboratories in the science hub, about 60 will be hired during the time between 2010 and the building’s opening day in 2015. The shift is a result of a hiring burst in the engineering school and the chemistry, physics, biology and hominid paleobiology departments that looks to draw in younger, more research-oriented faculty.

“We have embarked on a period of time where we are incrementally growing the faculty, increasing more people coming in and people who are leaving,” Provost Steven Lerman said.

Forrest Maltzman, the senior vice provost for academic affairs and planning, said the “two big driving forces” for determining who nabs space in the building will be whether professors are new hires and whether they boast high research productivity.

“We’ve been mapping out what hires we’ll be making over the next few years and trying to make sure as many of those faculty as possible will have research lab space in the [Science and Engineering Hall] if that’s what they need,” he added.

The science departments in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences will hire 26 professors – both tenure and non-tenure track – over the next three years. The engineering school has brought in 36 new faculty members over the last two years with plans to hire six more this year.

Engineering school dean David Dolling said he will send next year’s hiring plan to Lerman in April, and he expects 25 to 30 spots to open up in the next five years, from a combination of resignations, retirements and entirely new faculty positions.

Almost all the professors hired will be assured laboratory space in the Science and Engineering Hall – both big and small depending on their research portfolio and discipline – to fill the building’s interdisciplinary design.

“The very best candidates will always have multiple offers of employment, thus presenting a challenge,” Dolling said “The promise of the [Science and Engineering Hall], and the emphasis that GW has on strengthening engineering play key roles in why a potential candidate would want to come to GW.”

The hiring spurt comes after the University offered a buyout package to 39 full-time professors in the school of engineering – half of their full-time faculty – in January 2010. Six professors accepted the buyout.

The Faculty Senate’s physical facilities committee chair Hermann Helgert said he thought more buyouts could be in the works, but Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Dianne Martin said there were no buyout plans at the time.

The eight-floor science hall, which will include 400,000 square feet above ground, will also hold about 160 office spaces. Maltzman said “there will be some disappointed people” when it comes to assigning slots in the hall.

After representatives from Ballinger Architects, a Philadelphia-based firm, interviewed 177 science and engineering faculty last month about their space and equipment needs, preliminary decisions will come within the next few weeks about which professors will snag spots in the $275-million building.

The interviews are part of a “slightly moving process” that requires balancing potential hires, research portfolios and space needs, as architects draw up laboratory blueprints and the University tabulates equipment costs, Maltzman said.

Professors who do not make it into the Science and Engineering Hall will likely take up offices and laboratories in three of the existing buildings for science and engineering – Corcoran, Bell and Tompkins Halls.

Gustavo Hormiga, a chaired biology professor, said the allocation of laboratory spaces does not seem to be strictly contingent on research productivity. He added that the decision to split parts of the biology department across campus could handcuff it.

“You have to wonder if the sense of collegiality will suffer because of this,” Hormiga said. “You’re creating two classes of professors: the ones who stay and the ones who go in the building.”

The building has also been a lure for researchers as GW – ranked No. 102 nationally by US News and World Report – plays catch-up in appealing to top engineering professors, Dolling said. The success each department has in bringing in top researchers, Helgert said, will shape the makeup of the building.

“If biology hires a professor who is a hotshot and needs a lab of a certain space, that’s the time when this thing will be configured,” Helgert said.

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz projects that a $55 million net increase in indirect cost recoveries from research grants, which compensate the University for lab and equipment use, will fund the Science and Engineering Hall through 2022, according to a December report.

“Anything that goes on [in the Science and Engineering Hall] has to have big bucks behind it,” Helgert, an electrical and computer engineering professor, said. “It’s a premium and has to pay for itself.”

Cory Weinberg contributed to this report

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